Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Achieve the Perfect Balacne

The perfect balance. 

Something to aim for in our stories. 

In a world of readers with varying convictions, views, cultural-social-monetary backgrounds it is difficult to achieve the perfect balance. 

The following suggestions and points are for you to consider, not a rigid guideline or a tool to beat yourself over the head. After all, only God can achieve the perfect balance.

This having been said, lets see what we can do to bring our WIP to a higher level, one which reads closer to the perfect balance and ministers to readers.

Description: The purpose of description is to paint a 3-D picture so clearly the reader stands in the place, feels the object, hears the tones, tastes the bitterness/etc.

My teen daughter and I discussed a book series she is reading. We both love the concept of the series. In our discussion I mentioned several portions of the book I did not understand. The action moved fast through a setting. I lost track midway through and could not picture the scene at all. Had it not been for the exceptional plot and character I probably would have put the book down right then. Even though I finished the story, I felt incomplete and chose not to read the second book in the series. 

As writers we need to insure our readers always know where they are, what is in the surroundings, who is with them, who is saying what, and especially, above all, be accurate. Siri Mitchell word painted an object, a corset, so clearly I not only saw the object, I felt her character's pain. Siri achieved the balance in description not by infusing or grafting it into the story, but by blending it into the story. Well done. See her book She Walks in Beauty for this excellent example of balance.

Characters: The purpose of characters are to give the story meaning, something for the reader to relate to. A character does not need to be human. Too many characters muddy the waters, too few make a boring story.

Last year I read a story with a superb back cover synopsis. I opened the book and dove into the first scene with a long cast of characters sitting in a restaurant. Instantly the story boggled my mind.  Such a situation might work later in the book, but not in the beginning, especially the first chapter. As a reader I didn't have a chance to meet all these people and therefore did know why this one said this or another said that. The whole scene jumbled together.

Our stories not only need to introduce characters in a comprehensive manner, but there needs to be a reason for each character. If a reason can't be determined, cut the character, including unnecessary secondary characters. 

On the other hand, one day author Angela Breidenbach, leader of the Montana ACFW, sat at Tracie Peterson's dining room table and said, "I've figured out the problem! I needed to add a character. Yes. If I..." Sometimes adding a character brings clarity. 

Plots: The purpose of plot, even in a character driven work, is to have a unifying segment moving forward to a climax and resolution. The best stories have intriguing subplots floating through the plot. 

Television writers have mastered the infusion of subplot. They suck us into the opening story line then break for commercial. The viewer returns to the program, snack in hand, and finds the story has switched settings, characters, and has leaped into a subplot related to the plot. Within seconds the viewer is drawn into the subplot until the next commercial sends them back to the kitchen. The viewer returns and easily shifts back to the plot. But this time, they have learned backstory, something about the co-workers or family, something about the town. This knowledge adds light to the plot. Admit it Castle, Downton Abbey, and etc. viewers, this happens to you each week.

This is not a ping pong game. The best writers have more than one subplot weaving through the main plot. Building, adding strength, painting the original plot picture with rich colors the story becomes . . . memorable.

Although the best writers can weave subplots masterfully into a work, they also add the right amount. Too many subplots will confuse the reader, rip the focus from the plot, cause the reader to veer into a direction not intended . . . the terminal red herring with no escape.

I'm going to take a slight left turn here to include a category not completely fitting with those above, but an essential topic. 

Marketing: The purpose of marketing our books is to inform the masses of a product. 

This is a vast topic and my purpose is not to discuss all the marketing avenues open to us courtesy of the Internet. For this discussion, I want to remind us to keep marketing in moderation. We must do the work, but we must also write or we will have nothing to market.

Twitter, Facebook, blogging, et al are fantastic but also time consumers. While there are many resources to learn how to use these and other tools, I find Edie Nelson's website excellent for showing tips how to use these tools masterfully and with less time.

To me, moderation in marketing allows me time to write.

When does too much result in mundane? 
When does too little result in condensed?
The Bible  is the perfect example. 

Once again, I have chosen a topic too big for a post. Good grief, I need to use moderation.

Reader, choose one of the focus areas presented here today and add your insight. How can we achieve the perfect balance in description, character, plot, and marketing?

photo above courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary Christian fiction with a focus on the homeless population and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Jeanne T said...

Mary, this is another fabulous post. I loved your thoughts in all the areas,but I will focus on the character aspect of it. First, I liked the reminder that not all characters are human. I'm reading a book where a dog is a very definite character. :) I think I'm going to have one in my WIP. That being said, here's what I'm learning about characters: the characters that resonate most with the readers are ones who are flawed. Also, I find the stories I like the best are the ones where the character grows and changes into a better person. MBT talks about the "Lie Journey" as something that shows a character's growth. I'm working to craft good lie journeys for my heroine and hero.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts today. You've definitely got me thinking. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Good thoughts. The Lie Journey is a power method to mold a successful story.
I saw in the MBT chat last Monday that the Lie Journey needs to be mapped out for both MC and hero.
A lot of work, but it pays off in strengthening the story.

Lisa Jordan said...

Mary, wonderful blog post!

I'm going to jump in about description. I love writing storyworld and having the characters connect with their settings.

Knowing the POV character's mood at the beginning of the scene allows the writer to use that as a tool to set the tone for the scene.

By engaging the character's five senses and spiritual well-being in the scene allows you to paint with specific nouns and action verbs to fit with that mood. If a character is grumpy, then the description will be viewed in darker tones than if the character was joyful.

Make sense?

Also, allow the character to interact with the setting. Forget about writing paragraphs of description. Instead, as the character moves through the scene, filter in the description through interaction.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Excellent post, Mary! I would have to agree with you on all of it!

As for marketing, I think none published writers really need to be balanced when it comes to marketing yourself. We are told to get our name out there, build up a readership, etc... BUT if we don't have the time to write a book, or edit it to perfection, then all our "marketing" will be for naught.

I say focus on writing...the rest will come. If you have an awesome story, then the Lord will bring it to fruition and get it sold.:)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you Lisa for your input.

If anyone is interested in more of the fantastic tips Lisa shared, My Book Therapy has a Monday night chat class, free, and there are also books available with more of this information including examples and worksheets. I am speaking from experience. These are fantastic tools to keep the balance of your book.

Mary Vee Writer said...

So true. If we hone our craft, work diligently, keep a presence in networking, and give our work to God, He will bless.

Elisabeth Pettifor said...

Great post, Mary, but I'm not sure what you mean by "the characters don't need to be human" and "the Bible is the perfect example."
What is it the perfect example of, in this case?